Zip a de doo dah

In the mid 1970s I read and re-read a book about Phil Spec­tor. It was a inspi­ra­tional book for me at that age. Out of His Head by for­mer (and lat­er) Melody Mak­er edi­tor, and one of the most impor­tant music jour­nal­ists of his time, Richard Williams, was the first biog­ra­phy of Spec­tor and indeed one of the very ear­li­est seri­ous biogra­phies of a rock fig­ure that was­n’t all PR puffery and gloss (I’m think­ing of The Bea­t­les by Hunter Davies for exam­ple, which looked at the good bits and com­plete­ly ignored any­thing that was­n’t quite so, a lit­tle like the Bea­t­les own Anthol­o­gy too).

Williams wrote the book pri­mar­i­ly about the man who made the music, and the music that the man made, the records that rede­fined what music pro­duc­tion was (Williams revis­its Spec­tor here, post tri­al). He com­plete­ly changed the way we cre­ate music and you hear his influ­ence in almost every pop and rock record made to this day; and not only that, if it was­n’t enough, he also invent­ed the con­cept of the pro­duc­er as an artist, not just a man (or woman) who sits in the booth and works out the bal­ance between instru­ments, and he did this from his very first record­ing with the post-doo wop­pers, The Ted­dy Bears, in 1958.

Joe Meek, in the UK, was a lit­tle lat­er but did much the same, although he did­n’t cause any­thing like the musi­cal shock­waves that Spec­tor did, even if he was arguably even cra­zier, and, yes, he took a life too.

When it came to The Bea­t­les, nei­ther Lennon nor Har­ri­son had, by their own words, ever been pro­duced as such as they were by Spec­tor, a decade after his girl group peri­od began, when he mould­ed what were for both, their finest solo records and rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent to those six­ties pop sym­phonies but no less brilliant.

Spec­tor’s life and the life he enforced on oth­ers seems most dement­ed and har­row­ing when you look at the life of poor Ron­nie Spec­tor, who’s own book is pret­ty heavy read­ing. There is also a chap­ter in anoth­er book, Josh Alan Fried­man’s Tell The Truth Until They Bleed, where a trag­ic Ron­nie Spec­tor, divorced from Phil, bro­ken and still in her ear­ly twen­ties, is, with yet anoth­er of the end­less stream of no-name rock­er boyfriends that she tagged on to or vice ver­sa, stag­ger­ing from oldies gig to oldies gig for a pit­tance, when, it can be said with some con­fi­dence that she pos­sessed and maybe still does, one of the great­est female voic­es of her gen­er­a­tion. Few come close, and those records, every one, the hits, the flops and the ones that seem to have com­plete­ly slipped through the cracks before they were even released, are majes­tic sym­phon­ic pop mas­ter­pieces that can tear at your soul, and in my case, aged 16 when I first heard them, very much did.

I’ve just fin­ished anoth­er Spec­tor book, Mick Brown’s Tear­ing Down The Wall Of Sound, which does just that, tears down the myth far more thor­ough­ly than any of the ear­li­er books, by mak­ing the sto­ry of cre­ation of that music almost inci­den­tal to the mon­ster that cre­at­ed it, as if the music was an inevitable by-prod­uct of the hor­ror of his life. It’s the sto­ry of the human train-wreck that Phil Spec­tor was from that very first record through to the mur­der that even­tu­al­ly end­ed the his own life as well (unless by some mir­a­cle the appeal due short­ly allows him to walk, it is after all Cal­i­for­nia). The over­whelm­ing tragedy is that he caused pain for just about every­one he touched, he was in every way pos­si­ble, a mon­ster and a mon­ster for some fifty years.

But amongst all that there are still those mind-bog­gling records and I remain as con­fused as ever as to how we treat things like this. Do we dis­miss the music, wipe the tracks I’ve post­ed below from pop music’s his­toric record. No, I think not, it was­n’t even real­ly a ques­tion for me as The Fab­u­lous Ronettes Fea­tur­ing Veron­i­ca is still an album I would hap­pi­ly spend the rest of my days with, but it’s a ques­tion raised by one of the projects I’m work­ing on at the moment (and, no, I’m not about to make a record with Ronnie..I wish) and thus I voiced it.

In the mean­time, the music stands, I guess, and I’m hap­pi­ly, and with­out guilt, going to post these wonders:

The big hit from Ron­nie etc:

A cou­ple of (tow­er­ing) non-hits from The Ronettes:

A song from The Check­mates Ltd, which was real­ly no longer of its time when Spec­tor released it in ’67, but sounds pret­ty fine 43 years on:

A snip­pet of Spec­tor in the studio:

And this through­ly bizarre video where the odi­ous, con­vict­ed, and jailed for under­age sex in a very preda­to­ry way, Jonathan King, pays trib­ute to the mur­der­er Phil Spec­tor, which is only real­ly topped by the fact that Spec­tor is, they say, in the same cell­block as Charles Man­son, who so want­ed to be a Beach Boy, a band who’s music cen­tre was besot­ted with Spec­tor, so much so he had trou­ble speak­ing in his pres­ence for years.

This odd matchup does, as way of jus­ti­fy­ing its inclu­sion, use as audio, anoth­er won­der­ful Spec­tor pro­duced track, from The Check­mates Ltd (a band who’s one big hit, Black Pearl was also a big hit for the NZ band Moana & The Moa Hunters in the ear­ly 1990s), Love Is All I Have to Give:

It real­ly is too odd.…


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Chad Tay­lor
May 2, 2010 at 10:52 am

Carnie Wil­son remem­bers Bri­an play­ing ‘Be My Baby’ every morn­ing. She’d hear the drums start­ing and think, oh — Dad’s up.

May 2, 2010 at 11:09 am

Shame it did­n’t rub off on her, huh..

Chad Tay­lor
May 2, 2010 at 11:46 am

I sus­pect if Bri­an Wil­son was your dad your aspi­ra­tions would be to be as unlike him as possible.

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